How Republicans Are Undermining Democracy

Even after Donald Trump’s departure, the Grand Old Party is playing the democratic game less and less, imposing restrictive election laws and purging its ranks of dissidents.

“Democracy has prevailed,” Joe Biden affirmed emphatically in his inaugural speech on Jan. 20. A somewhat optimistic claim, given what has been happening in Texas over the last few months. The Republican Party — the elected majority in the state — has concocted a bill that limits early and mail-in voting, and prohibits overnight and drive-through voting, both popular options among minority voters in 2020.

Officially, these measures aim to curb electoral fraud, even though there was virtually none in the last election. Unofficially, they aim to discourage millions of Democrats from making it to the polls. The Republicans discreetly added, at the last minute, 12 pages’ worth of new measures: One makes it easier to invalidate election results; another forbids early voting on Sundays before 1 p.m., with the sole goal of deterring those Black voters wanting to fulfill their civic duty on the way to or from church. Finally, without a single qualm, they have amended the procedural rules, cutting short the time given to the opposition to review the bill, which they eventually put to the vote on a Sunday after one night of debating.

Trump’s Exit Changed Nothing

Texas is not the only state wishing to restrict voting conditions. For years, the Republican Party has been using, in any way it can, insidious and very creative tactics to lower election turnout. Polling places are shut down in Democratic areas, electoral lists are purged, photo ID is made mandatory, which penalizes disadvantaged voters who possess neither a passport nor a driver’s license … The reasoning behind this (which is in no way supported by data from previous elections) is the following: Non-voters in the United States are predominantly minorities, the poor and the young, therefore mainly left-leaning. If they are not prevented from fulfilling their civic duty, this guarantees the defeat of the Republicans, like it did in the 2020 U.S. election, which saw a record voter turnout.

Over the last few months, the GOP has been deploying major efforts to avoid this. By mid-May, 14 states had passed 22 bills to make access to the polls more difficult, and a further 61 are being reviewed in 18 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. More serious still, several of those measures grant elected officials additional rights when it comes to counting ballots and invalidating results. “The fact that a party believes the only way to win elections is to restrict the number of voters is problematic for democracy,” says Bernard Fraga, a political science professor and elections specialist at Emory University.*

Donald Trump’s exit, therefore, has not changed a thing. The Republican Party still employs methods worthy of a banana republic. To remain in the good books of the Trumpist electorate, its members are still claiming that the election was rigged, even though nothing supports that claim. According to an opinion poll, almost two out of three Republican voters contest Biden’s legitimacy. In Arizona, the local branch of the party even went so far as to hire a private agency to recount the ballots, months after the results had been certified. The whole thing has turned into a circus show and has been dragging on for weeks. Yet, other states are considering carrying out a similar recount.

GOP Decreasingly Willing To Play Along with Democracy

Whether out of cynicism or conviction, few Republican officials condemned the pro-Trump crowd who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Some of them are now trying to rewrite history, claiming that the rioters were peaceful tourists. … Worse still, they recently opposed the creation of a commission charged with investigating the riot, for fear, no doubt, that the results of the inquiry would point a finger at them. And beware of going against the party line! In a move reminiscent of a Stalinist purge, the party dismissed Liz Cheney, a major figure in the House. Her sin? Having voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment, and having dared to claim that he lost the election.**

In reality, the GOP is less and less willing to play along with democracy. “[I]t is now more similar to autocratic ruling parties such as the Turkish AKP and Fidesz in Hungary than to typical center-right governing parties,” according to an analysis by the Swedish research institute V-Dem. It is motivated by “fear,” explain Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in their book, “How Democracies Die.”* The two researchers write that Republicans, who are predominantly white, Christian and rural, know that in an increasingly diverse, urban and secular society, their electoral prospects are scarce. As a result, anything goes to in order to win and hold on to power. “In a two-party system, it is not viable in the long term to have one of the two parties conspire openly against the system,” says David Faris, author of “It’s Time to Fight Dirty,” a book about the need to reform American institutions.*

Moved by a “deep concern” over “radical changes to core electoral procedures,” almost 200 scholars and researchers, including Francis Fukuyama, have come forward. “[O]ur entire democracy is now at risk,” they claim in an open letter. Trey Grayson, a moderate Republican, deems this an overreaction. According to him, the political system has been in place for over 200 years and contains many safeguards; despite pressure from Trump, election officials across all states have done their jobs. “Americans have too much faith in their institutions. They assume that the Founding Fathers were geniuses who planned for every eventuality to avoid the collapse of democracy. But in January, 147 members of Congress voted against the certification of the election results,” responds Faris.* In his opinion, 2024 could very well bring about a worst-case scenario, one in which the Republicans, having reclaimed Congress, refuse to acknowledge a Democrat’s victory at the White House.

And Biden does not have a lot of means to counter them. A bill aiming to put in place federal measures to protect the integrity of the election results has just fallen through. In Texas, as a way of protesting against the forceful passage of the electoral bill, Democrats employed a radical tactic: They left the room. This prevented a quorum, and the vote had to be canceled. Until next time.

*Editor’s Note: These quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.

**Editor’s Note: Cheney was removed from her leadership position; she maintains her seat in the House until the 2022 election.

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